Pregnancy Exercise: Experts Weigh in on Dos and Don’ts
During my first pregnancy, I was terrified to do any type of exercise. I wanted to run. I had been running for years. The doctor gave me the OK to run, but visions of a jostled baby scared me, and so I did little more than walk a few blocks here and there. I gained quite a bit of weight and had a tough time taking it off once I delivered.
My second pregnancy, though, went a bit differently. I ran until just a few weeks before delivery. I ran three days a week, three miles at a time, until I got too big and the baby pressed down on my bladder, leaving me to believe my water had broken on one particular jaunt. (The friendly staff at the local ER assured me, after an ultrasound, that it wasn't amniotic fluid I'd leaked but — much to my embarrassment — another bodily fluid.) I did so to keep my sanity and, I hoped, to keep in shape so that after baby came, I had more energy and could drop the added weight faster. (I did on both counts.)
Still, I always wondered how safe exercise was during pregnancy, what was OK to do, and what should be avoided during that time. So I turned to a few experts with questions about the safety of fitness during pregnancy and to find out their thoughts about exercising with baby on board.
1. Crunches and ab work – Yea and Nay. Dr. Katherine Bolt, OB/GYN with Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston, Texas, told me, “It is OK to continue a normal abdominal exercise routine in the first trimester,” but added that, as the uterus grows, it will become difficult and uncomfortable — if not impossible — to bend around the belly. “I generally recommend avoiding a direct abdominal workouts and encourage core workouts like Pilates or yoga”
2. Long distance or endurance training – Depends. Some of my fanatical friends (me NOT included!) wanted to continue long distance running and/or cycling while pregnant. (I just wanted to take naps!) Dr. Bolt said that the important thing is to continue the routines you practiced regularly prior to pregnancy instead of adding on an endurance event after you are eating for two. She recommends self-pacing and says most of those who exercise while pregnant, endurance athletes included, will voluntarily reduce the intensity of exercise routines as the pregnancy progresses.
However, Bolt DOES recommend heart rate monitoring for those who insist on logging longer miles while pregnant. During exercise sessions, blood is shunted away from the pregnant uterus, she said, and then sent to active muscles. When the heart rate is over 140 beats per minute, the muscles are consuming the majority of oxygen in your blood. Maintaining this heart rate (over 140) temporarily may not be problematic, but doing it for a long period of time could decrease the important blood supply needed for your growing baby.
3. Weight lifting training – Nay. While you may not want to lose those toned arms during pregnancy, lifting heavy weights could be problematic. Instead, said Dr. Fahimeh Sasan, Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, it is “better to do resistance training with 1-2 pound weights with multiple repetitions.” This won't put added strain on your body, all while allowing you to keep those biceps in shape, which you will need when lifting a baby!
4. High impact sports – Nay. Things like kickboxing, punching bags, and boxing, which can potentially cause trauma, are best avoided during pregnancy, said Dr. Sasan. Instead, try things like swimming, which is a no-impact form of cardiovascular exercise that's easy on the joints, walking (outside or on the treadmill), and running. Look for prenatal yoga and prenatal Pilates classes as well.
Above all, keep in mind the ultimate goal for exercising during pregnancy. It's likely not to:
- Look good in a bikini
- Maintain a tight stomach, or
- Lose some weight.
Instead, it's to make pregnancy and childbirth easier, keep your body at a healthy weight during the pregnancy, and bounce back faster once your bundle of joy has arrived.
Dr. Sasan said it best: “Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.” This is paramount during pregnancy, he added, so choose fitness programs that keep you moving without draining your energy bank.
How about you? Are you (or were you) exercising during pregnancy? If so, what have you kept up and what have you kicked to the curb? And what is the reason you've continued to exercise during these nine months?